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Child neglect threatens United States' future

The Old Testament (II Kings 4:26) asks, "Is it well with the child?" How would we respond for America's 64-million children that Herbert Hoover considered to be, "our most valuable natural resource"?

It is a national disgrace that each day 2,900 children are born who have received no prenatal care during their first trimester; 2,750 kids' parents separate or divorce; 135,000 children take guns to school while, on average, 40 kids are shot; more than 2,400 kids drop out of school; and 1,400 teenage girls become pregnant. One in five of America's children live in poverty, and half of all children in families with a single mother are poor. Five-million children under age 12 suffer from hunger. Malnourishment in children can cause school difficulties, neurological problems and a higher incidence of infections.

Every day 27 children die from the effects of poverty, and three die from child abuse. Sixteen-million children have no health insurance coverage. One in 20 teachers is assaulted annually, and nearly 300,000 high school students are attacked each month. Since 1988, juvenile arrests for homicide have increased 93 percent.

Financing and enrollment for the Headstart program are far below what they should be given the benefits for disadvantaged children. Despite a massive infusion of funds and multiple reform efforts, the nation's schools continue to struggle with inferior performance and the tolerance of chronically disruptive kids within a system that hasn't really changed much since the turn of the century. It is generally agreed that students who do well, whether they are rich or poor, have parents or some other adult in their lives who highly value education and have guided them.

Recognizing that kids don't vote but need a political voice, the Coalition for America's Children is attempting to promote an agenda of health, education, safety and security for all American children. The coalition is a non-partisan alliance of 200 national, state and community-based non-profit organizations working to raise concern for children to the top of the public policy agenda. A recent member of the Coalition's Steering Committee is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) whose new president, Lovola Burgess, cites health care as "the ultimate intergenerational issue." Viewing intergenerational action as a contemporary "Declaration of Interdependence," AARP has adopted the slogan: Everybody is somebody's grandchild.

Results of a bipartisan poll showed that: 70 percent of American voters think the plight of children has worsened in the last five years; 85 percent believe our political leaders are not doing enough to help solve the problems children face; three in five want candidates for public office to have a children's platform; and two-thirds say they would be more likely to vote for someone who supports increased spending for children's programs.

The coalition provides some specific questions for candidates and urges voters to ask them during forums, town meetings, socials, and in private letters to determine who's for kids, and who's just kidding. These questions include: (1) What is your proposal for securing access to quality health care for all children? (2) What steps will you take to make sure no child is hungry? (3) How will you ensure that all children start school ready to learn, and that schools are enabled to carry out their mandate to educate every child? (4) What should government's role be to make sure our communities are safe for all American children? (5) What do you propose to assure access to affordable, quality child care?

In his poem, The Builders, Longfellow could have been speaking of the 1992 children's political agenda when he wrote:

Build today, then, strong and sure,

With a firm and ample base;

And ascending and secure

Shall tomorrow find its place.

Dale J. Hyland has been in social services for 15 years, and is a human services consultant in Pinellas County.